When Fake Engine Sounds for BMW Electric Vehicles Just Don’t Cut It

BMW Electric Vehicles Soundtrack

Oscar-Winning Composer Creates Lush Soundscape for New BMW Electric Vehicles

Certain BMW electric vehicles are quiet – so quiet they needed to have some sounds added back in. But rather than simply replicating the sound of a gasoline engine (as other electric brands are doing), BMW decided to take it one step further.

Drivers of BMW’s iX electric sports activity vehicle will enjoy an interactive “soundscape” by  famed movie composer Hans Zimmer instead of traditional engine sounds.

The Academy Award-winning composer has created scores for Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lion King and Inception so why not create lush sounds for one of Germany’s most iconic car brands?

“It’s like when you’re sailing and you hear the wind in the sails,” said BMW head of design Domagoj Dukec in a recently recorded talk. “It doesn’t recreate the sound of the engine. It’s really a completely new symphony.”

The sounds, which will respond to the driver’s actions along with the automobile’s performance and external conditions, will be played through 24 speakers throughout the auto’s interior.

The sounds include an “electronic interpretation” of the sound of wind rushing over the car. Some speakers are even embedded into the driver’s seat to allow for an even more immersive experience as you zip down the highway in your luxury SAV.

“It’s more like you can almost compose the music with the way you drive,” Dukec explained. “It’s like you create your own music.”

The soundscapes will be included in the BMW iX SAV as well as the i4 Gran Coupe, both of which are launching in the fall.

“Design so far has been quite superficial. It was just seen from a visual point of view,” Dukec added. “But human beings, they have many more senses – five senses – and seeing is just 20 per cent. If you want to really create this joy of an experience, you have to somehow address more than just one sense.”

“It opens up a completely new horizon.”

BMW Electric Vehicles Sound - Hans Zimmer

BMW has been working with Zimmer for over two years to create a library of bespoke sounds for its growing line of state-of-the-art electric vehicles.

Zimmer is known for crafting timeless, instantly recognizable scores that have gleaned him Oscar nods. He’s made music for the Dark Knight trilogy, Interstellar and a host of other blockbuster films.

Zimmer’s electronic sound of air passing over the car will be combined with a unique composition created by Zimmer that responds to the car’s three driving modes: core, sport and efficient.

Sounds as well as volume will change according to the speed of the vehicle.

“We have different modes, so you have different experiences,” said Dukec. “Suddenly you are not just connected to the functional sound of your engine; you can create something completely free. It opens up a completely new horizon.”

In a teaser video for the iX, there’s a futuristic zooming noise similar to some of the experimental compositions that Zimmer has previously created for movies. Zimmer has also worked with the company’s acoustic engineer Renzo Vitale to create a soundscape for its Vision M Next concept car.

The collaboration with Zimmer is part of a recent broadening of BMW’s design strategy towards creating a more user-centered experience besides focusing on performance and technology.

“We are not designing cars any more in the future,” he said. “For us, it’s very important that we are designing the experience of joy.”

The cockpit of the BMW iX boasts streamline design including a central wooden console. The interior is designed to resemble a home or luxury hotel room, according to Dukec.

“The exterior should express a shell protecting this very precious interior space of the iX, which we believe is a very new approach in the car industry,” he explained.

“It shouldn’t look like a machine, it shouldn’t look like a cockpit of an aeroplane, it should look more like a boutique hotel.”

As such, the car’s impressive tech features are strategically concealed throughout the cockpit to blend seamlessly with the design. This “calming” technology includes buttons  embedded into the central wooden console and speakers hidden behind textiles.

For his part, Zimmer compares creating the BMW i4 soundscape with how he approached the 2018 war movie ‘Dunkirk.’ He explains that he uses a technique called the “Shepard tone” (named after scientist Roger Shepard) which creates the auditory illusion of a tone that seems to continually ascend or descend in pitch, yet actually gets no higher or lower.

BMW Electric Vehicles Sound - i4

That’s in sharp contrast to the thinking behind the ‘soundtrack’ for the forthcoming i4 Gran Coupe where the sound is more open ended.

“Here it’s the sense of moving forward,” Zimmer has said in a recent interview. “It’s trying to get somewhere. It’s the idea that things can be infinite. You are moving forward, but you never get there. A good piece of music transports your endorphins.”

Sounds like a joy ride to us!


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